January 17, 2020 •
News You Can Use Digest – January 17, 2020
Court Debates Using Shell Companies to Mask Political Donations
Bloomberg Law – Kenneth Doyle | Published: 1/10/2020
A federal appeals court panel heard arguments over the use of shell companies to hide donations in a case that could affect super PAC disclosure in the 2020 election. Utah businessperson Steven Lund is helping the FEC defend the dismissal of allegations that Lund and other wealthy donors used shell companies to illegally hide their donations to super PACs. Lund was among several donors accused of violating campaign finance laws by funneling millions of dollars to super PACs that supported Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential race. Obscure corporations were listed as the donors in reports filed with the FEC, prompting watchdog groups to complain the true donors were being hidden.
Did You Get a Text from an Unknown Number? It Might Be Bernie Sanders’ Campaign
McClatchyDC – Emily Cadei | Published: 1/8/2020
Democrats and Republicans alike are spending millions of dollars and deploying thousands of staffers and volunteers focused on texting with committed and potential supporters in the 2020 election. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, an early adopter of the tactic, has already sent nearly nine times as many text messages to voters as it did during the entire 2016 primary. Political candidates’ and groups’ use of text messaging has skyrocketed over the past several years thanks to new software and the ease and efficiency of reaching voters across the country. “Everyone reads their text messages,” said Daniel Souweine, who ran Sanders’ text message program in 2016. “It’s quickly moved from, ‘hey, what is this thing?’, to the point where you can’t run a modern political campaign without it.”
Doctored Images Have Become a Fact of Life for Political Campaigns. When They’re Disproved, Believers ‘Just Don’t Care.’
Washington Post – Drew Harwell | Published: 1/14/2020
For ginning up political resentment and accentuating a rivals’ flaws, nothing quite compares to a doctored image. It can help anyone turn a political opponent into a caricature – inventing gaffes, undercutting wins, and erasing nuance – leaving only the emotion behind. Sharing doctored images of an electoral rival is a timeworn strategy of modern politics: in campaign mailers and television ads, shadowy lighting, sinister music, and unflattering facial expressions are so expected as to be cliché. But those tactics are increasingly playing out on the Internet, the most powerful visual medium in history, where they do not require a campaign’s backing or resources to get attention.
House Votes to Send Trump Impeachment to Senate for Trial
AP News – Linda Mascaro | Published: 1/15/2020
The U.S. House voted to send two articles of impeachment against President Trump to the Senate and approve House prosecutors for only the third impeachment trial in American history. The nearly party-line vote moved Trump’s impeachment from the Democratic-run House to the Republican-majority Senate, where Trump expects acquittal, even as new evidence is raising fresh questions about his Ukraine dealings. The president is charged with abuse of power over his pressure on Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, using military aid to the country as leverage. Trump was also charged with obstructing Congress’ ensuing probe.
IRS May Be Unaware of 9,774 Political Nonprofits, Watchdog Says
Los Angeles Times – Bloomberg | Published: 1/9/2020
The IRS has not done enough to identify noncompliant political organizations, despite having various sources of data that would enable it to do so, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration said. There are 9,774 politically active tax-exempt organizations that may have failed to notify the IRS of their existence or submit the paperwork to operate tax-free. The groups are required to notify the IRS within 60 days of forming that they intend to operate as a “social welfare” group organized under tax code Section 501(c)4. The IRS could also be failing to collect millions of dollars in penalties and fees owed by these social welfare groups, the report said. The revelation comes as the IRS is seeking to finish regulations that would allow the groups to keep their donor lists secret unless they are requested by the agency.
Lev Parnas: Trump ‘knew exactly what was going on’ in Ukraine
Politico – Matthew Choi, Kyle Cheney, and Darren Samuelsohn | Published: 1/15/2020
Lev Parnas said President Trump and Rudy Giuliani directed him to urge Ukrainian officials to publicly open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden. Parnas asserted that the ouster of Marie Yovanovitch as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine was entirely motivated by her interference in their efforts to start a Biden investigation. Parnas said Trump was fully aware of his actions and added that Vice President Mike Pence, Attorney General William Barr, and former national security adviser John Bolton were all aware of or involved in parts of the scheme. Elements of his story are backed up by a trove of contemporaneous documents he provided to lawmakers in recent days, files that were initially seized by law enforcement officials following his indictment on campaign finance charges and released to him only recently.
More Money, Less Transparency: A decade under Citizens United
Center for Responsive Politics – Karl Evers-Hillstrom | Published: 1/14/2020
In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the longstanding prohibition on independent expenditures by corporations violated the First Amendment. With its decision, the court allowed corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited sums to support or oppose candidates. The majority made the case that political spending from independent actors, even from powerful companies, was not a corrupting influence on those in office. The decade that followed was by far the most expensive in the history of American elections. The explosion of big money and secret spending was not spurred on by Citizens United alone. It was enabled by a number of court decisions that surgically removed several restrictions in campaign finance law and emboldened by inaction from Congress and gridlock within the FEC.
Ocasio-Cortez Creates PAC to Push Back on the Democratic Party’s ‘Blacklisting’ Rule
MSN – Kayla Epstein (Washington Post) | Published: 1/12/2020
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced she had formed a PAC to help raise funds for progressive primary candidates. She has been a vocal opponent of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s policy to “blacklist” vendors and firms that work with candidates mounting primary challenges against Democratic incumbents. Ocasio-Cortez was one such candidate, having run a successful primary campaign against U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley in 2018. Democratic leadership sees the rule as necessary to protect seats and win elections, but critics say it prevents fresh voices from reaching Congress and could encumber efforts to increase diversity at the Capitol.
Robert Hyde, Erratic Ex-Landscaper, Is Unlikely New Impeachment Figure
TheWorldNews.net – Michael Rothfeld, William Rashbaum, and Ben Protess (New York Times) | Published: 1/15/2020
Even in an impeachment drama brimming with improbable characters, Robert Hyde stands out. Hyde, an obscure Republican candidate for Congress in Connecticut, was thrust into the proceedings to remove President Trump from office when the House released a series of encrypted messages that he exchanged last year with an associate of Rudolph Giuliani. The messages suggest Hyde had been secretly tracking the movements of Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine at the time. The conversations drew alarm from Yovanovitch, who was removed from her post on Trump’s orders, and calls from a member of Congress for an investigation. It was only the latest in a series of erratic episodes for Hyde, whose congressional campaign has been marked by inflammatory comments.
Russians Hacked Ukrainian Gas Company at Center of Impeachment
MSN – Nicole Perlroth and Matthew Rosenberg (New York Times) | Published: 1/13/2020
Russian hackers targeted the Ukrainian gas company that is a major focus of impeachment proceedings against President Trump, according to a cybersecurity firm that says it discovered the attacks on Burisma Holdings. The Russian military hackers began an attack in November on the firm, where Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden’s son had served on the board. It is not yet clear what the hackers found, or precisely what they were searching for. But the experts say the timing and scale of the attacks suggest the Russians could be searching for potentially embarrassing material on the Bidens, the same kind of information that Trump wanted from Ukraine when he pressed for an investigation of the Bidens and Burisma, setting off a chain of events that led to his impeachment.
Sen. Cory Booker Exits the Democratic Presidential Primary, Making the Field Less Diverse
MSN – Amy Wang and David Weigel (Washington Post) | Published: 1/13/2020
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker announced he is dropping out of the Democratic presidential race. Booker said his operation would not have the money “to scale up and continue building a campaign that can win,” particularly with a Senate impeachment trial looming and because he would be absent from the most recent debate. As a presidential candidate, Booker was often stuck, unable to convince left-wing voters that he was on their side while turning down donations and initially rejecting super PAC support that could have helped him. Democrats who watched the candidates were often surprised by Booker’s lack of traction.
Supreme Court Won’t Hear Fight Over SEC’s Pay-To-Play Rule
law360.com – Reenat Sinay | Published: 1/13/2020
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a state Republican Party’s challenge to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) power to implement a rule preventing “pay-to-play” practices by investment advisers who make political contributions, leaving in place a lower court ruling in the SEC’s favor. The rule at issue, approved by the SEC in 2016, prevents brokers from seeking government business within two years of a campaign donation. It was intended to complement the SEC’s existing rule covering investment advisers, given concerns that investment advisers might sidestep the rule by relying on brokers acting as placement agents to make the political contributions instead.
These Emails Show a Trump Official Helping Her Former Chemical Industry Colleagues
ProPublica – Derek Kravitz | Published: 1/14/2020
In 2017, Dow Chemical scored a long-sought-after victory: after a push from the U.S. government, China approved the import of the company’s genetically modified herbicide-resistant corn seeds. A grateful Dow lobbyist emailed a senior Agriculture Department official whose support had been critical: “Thank you for your efforts in support of U.S. agriculture.” That official, Rebeckah Adcock, was no stranger to Dow. Before joining the Trump administration, Adcock was the chief lobbyist for the herbicide industry’s trade group, of which Dow was a prominent member. Adcock had helped her former industry colleagues in a variety of ways. At Dow’s request, for example, she had arranged a meeting between a top company official and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue about the seed issue.
Trump Labor Agencies Ease Up on Recusals
Politico – Ian Kullgren and Rebecca Rainey | Published: 1/15/2020
President Trump promised to drain the swamp in Washington, but under his administration several high-level Labor Department and National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) officials are dealing directly with cases they touched in the private sector, raising questions about conflicts-of-interest. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, in his previous capacity as a private attorney, won a Chamber of Commerce lawsuit two years ago against an Obama-era regulation governing retirement advice. But in October, the department’s ethics lawyers cleared Scalia to participate in crafting a new version of the rule. The NLRB issued a new recusal policy in November that, barring unlikely intervention by a president or an appellate court ruling, leaves all decisions about conflict of interest to the NLRB member in question.
Voting Machine Makers Face Questions from House Lawmakers – But More Remain
NBC News – Ben Popkin | Published: 1/9/2020
For decades, the companies that dominated the U.S. voting machine industry operated in relative anonymity. Now, lawmakers want answers and transparency. The chief executive officers of the three companies that make more than 80 percent of the country’s voting machines testified before Congress for the first time, marking a new and bipartisan effort to ensure the security of the 2020 election. Election Systems & Software, Dominion Voting Systems, and Hart InterCivic, are almost entirely unregulated. But in recent years, policymakers and election advocates have begun to question who owns the companies, how they make their machines, and whether they could be susceptible to remote hacking.
Wealthy Donors Now Allowed to Give Over Half a Million Dollars Each to Support Trump’s Reelection
San Francisco Chronicle – Michelle Ye Hee Lee (Washington Post) | Published: 1/15/2020
Donors to President Trump’s reelection are now permitted to give nearly $600,000 per year, boosting the president’s ability to raise money from wealthy supporters. Under an agreement announced by Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee for the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee (RNC), a single donor can give as much as $580,600 this year to support Trump’s reelection – higher than the committee’s previous caps on contributions. That means the RNC’s biggest contributors could end up having shelled out as much as $1.6 million to support Trump’s reelection over the course of the four-year election cycle. It is the latest example of the expanding fundraising power of national party committees, made possible through pivotal legal changes in 2014 that loosened restrictions on individual donations.
White House Hold on Ukraine Aid Violated Federal Law, Congressional Watchdog Says
MSN – Jeff Stein, Ellen Nakashima, and Erica Werner (Washington Post) | Published: 1/16/2020
The White House violated federal law in its hold on security aid to Ukraine last year, according to a decision by The Government Accountability Office (GAO), a nonpartisan agency that reports to Congress The GAO found the Trump administration violated a law that governs how the White House disburses money approved by Congress. White House budget officials have defended their power to stop the money from being given to the Defense Department, arguing both congressional lawmakers and executive branch officials routinely demand delays on funding already signed into law.
From the States and Municipalities
Arizona – APS Boss Promises No More Campaign Cash for Regulators
Arizona Capitol Times – Dillon Rosenblatt | Published: 1/14/2020
The new chief executive officer of Arizona Public Service Co. (APS) vowed the company, its parent company, Pinnacle West, and other known affiliates would not spend money on campaigns for utility regulators while he is in charge. Jeff Guldner’s statement came at a meeting of the Arizona Corporation Commission in which he fielded questions, giving them what they waited months to hear: a promise to no longer allow the utility to contribute to the elections of the regulators who will have to regulate them. Three of the current commissioners, Lea Marques Peterson, Boyd Dunn, and Bob Burns, have all accepted contributions from APS and other utilities and now have to disclose it before any vote relating to those companies under a new code of ethics.
California – Slugfest at a California Conference Has Inspired a Politician to Propose a New Law
Los Angeles Times – Ruben Vives | Published: 1/13/2020
In May, two council members got into an argument at a conference in Indian Wells that turned into a brawl. The slugfest ended up involving four of the politicians from the city of Commerce and left one councilperson, Leonard Mendoza, lying on the ground unconscious. There were ripple effects: the California Contract Cities Association, the nonprofit advocacy group that hosted the conference, suspended Commerce’s membership and a local criminal investigation was launched, though no charges have been filed. Now, Assemblyperson Cristina Garcia, whose district includes Commerce, plans to introduce legislation aimed at giving the California auditor the authority to examine the finances of government lobbying organizations such as Contract Cities.
Florida – Despite ‘Cone-of-Silence’ Over JEA Sale, Top Mayoral Official Spoke to Florida Power and Light CEO During Private Party at Jaguars Game
Florida Times Union – Christopher Hong | Published: 1/9/2020
Brian Hughes, Tallahassee Mayor Lenny Curry’s top administrator, denied having a substantive conversation with Florida Power and Light Chief Executive Officer Eric Silagy during a party the company hosted at the October 27 Jacksonville Jaguars game. Silagy recalled speaking with Hughes about several issues related to economic development but not about JEA, a community owned electric, water, and sewer utility that Florida Power and Light was competing to buy. City Hall attorneys told city officials that state law prohibited them from discussing JEA privatization efforts with any representatives of the entities who submitted bids to purchase the utility. while city officials and the bidders were allowed to discuss matters unrelated to JEA, city attorneys cautioned them to “consider the appearance of impropriety” before doing so.
Florida – Lobbyist or Neighborhood Advocate? ‘Strange’ Events at Zoning Meeting Puzzles County
Palm Beach Post – Hannah Morse | Published: 1/10/2020
Supporters of a RaceTrac gas station at a Palm Beach County zoning meeting are being examined. One Palm Beach County commissioner thought it was odd that a hearing on a gas station proposal drew supporters who made curious, sometimes repetitive arguments, like preferring RaceTrac’s food offerings to fast food and enjoying the service station’s access to Wi-Fi connections. Those who made the peculiar comments are being examined closer after an allegation that they may have been paid to speak in favor of the project. “Where do you view them from someone who’s advocating versus someone who is a flat-out lobbyist?” Assistant County Administrator Patrick Rutter said.
Florida – Public Policy, Secret Sway and ‘Schmoozing’ in Tallahassee, Leon County
Tallahassee Democrat – Jeff Burlew | Published: 1/9/2020
A review of Tallahassee and Lee County commissioner calendars from 2018 and the first half of 2019 found elected officials interacted with more than 30 lobbyists who were not registered with the respective local governments during some 60 meetings. The investigation illuminated how public business is conducted in a government town brimming with lobbyists, lawyers, and consultants, where friendships, personal business, and public policy often are intertwined. While many of the lobbyist interactions may have been perfectly legal, watchdogs say they fall in a grey area of the law. In some cases, unregistered lobbyists and elected officials talked public business behind closed doors or otherwise out of the sunshine, making it impossible for constituents to know exactly what was discussed.
Illinois – City Hall Lobbyists Rewrite Their Playbook
Crain’s Chicago Business – A.D. Quig | Published: 1/10/2020
In Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s reforming crusade against aldermanic prerogative and a culture of “give to get” in City Hall, her first months have included changes that doubled fines for ethics violations and broadened the definition of lobbyist to include nonprofits. Her administration has also banned aldermen from lobbying other governments and banned other politicians from lobbying City Hall for private interests. Despite those changes – or perhaps because of them – the local lobbying business is on the upswing. Those who can navigate the changing landscape and guide their clients through it stand to benefit.
Illinois – Ethics Board Imposes Max $2,000 Fine Against Chicago Ald. Edward Burke Over Letter He Wrote in Matter Involving a Client
Chicago Tribune – Gregory Pratt | Published: 1/15/2020
The Chicago Board of Ethics fined Ald. Edward Burke $2,000 after determining the embattled alderman wrote a letter to another city official “in a matter involving a client of his law firm within 12 months of when the alderman’s law firm represented this client.” The board fined Burke the maximum it could for the violation, which was $2,000. Federal prosecutors filed a racketeering indictment against Burke in May. The 59-indictment outlined a series of alleged schemes in which prosecutors say Burke abused his City Hall clout to extort private legal work from companies and individuals doing business with the city.
Illinois – Illinois Ag Director Resigns Over Response to Rape Email
AP News – John O’Connor | Published: 1/14/2020
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s agriculture director has resigned after acknowledging he received, but did not act on, a lobbyist’s email seven years ago that referenced an alleged rape cover-up and illegal hiring practices. John Sullivan said he did not read the email thoroughly at the time but that “I accept responsibility for what was truly an unintentional oversight and the subsequent inaction.” The email from Michael McClain, formerly a powerful lobbyist and confidante of House Speaker Michael Madigan, was sent to aides of then-Gov. Pat Quinn. It sought leniency for a “loyal” state employee who “has kept his mouth shut on Jones’ ghost workers, the rape in Champaign and other items.” Pritzker referred the matter to the Office of the Executive Inspector General for review and the Illinois State Police have opened an investigation.
Illinois – Who’s a Lobbyist? Lawmakers Grapple with the Question as Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Others Push for Ban on Public Officials Working in That Role
Chicago Tribune – Dan Petrella | Published: 1/15/2020
With federal investigators scrutinizing the activities of lobbyists at Chicago City Hall and the Capitol, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker wants the General Assembly to pass legislation banning public officials from working as lobbyists at other levels of government. But to do that, lawmakers will have to decide what, exactly, counts as lobbying and who would be required to register as a lobbyist. The difficulty lawmakers face in answering those questions became apparent at the second meeting of a state ethics commission created late last year in response to the issues raised during the ongoing federal investigation. Aside from state government, only a handful of Illinois’ nearly 7,000 units of government have any kind of disclosure requirements for those seeking to influence decision-making by public officials.
Indiana – Former Lawmaker Won’t Face Lobbying Charges. Marion County Prosecutor Won’t Detail Why.
Indianapolis Star Tribune – Chris Sikich | Published: 1/13/2020
The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office has declined to say specifically why former state Sen. Allen Paul will not face criminal charges that he violated Indiana’s lobbying law, leaving veterans advocates puzzled and frustrated. A media investigation revealed a secretive employment deal with a temporary agency, in which Paul had been paid more than $150,000 to push the agenda of the state Department of Veterans’ Affairs among legislators. He did so without registering as a lobbyist, as seemingly required by law, or tracking his hours and work product, as required by his contract. Michael Leffler, a spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office, has repeatedly declined to answer specific questions about why the prosecutor’s office reached a different conclusion than the Indiana Lobby Registration Commission. The office also will not make Prosecutor Ryan Mears, or any of his deputies or investigators, available for an interview about the matter.
Maine – Indirect Lobbying Can Fly Under the Radar. A Maine Ethics Commission Proposal Could Change That
Maine Public – Steve Mistler | Published: 1/9/2020
The agency overseeing Maine’s lobbying regulations wants to update a state law that has allowed some interest groups to influence legislation by spending big without having to disclose it to the public. The proposal deals with what is known as grassroots lobbying. Jonathan Wayne, director of the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, says it is inspired by an increase in advertising and “influence campaigns” that often do not get reported through traditional lobbying disclosures, and influenced by a shadowy group that is seeking to derail a controversial transmission line proposed by Central Maine Power. Wayne told the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee his agency’s bill is designed to modernize grassroots lobbying requirements.
Maryland – After Corruption Scandal, Baltimore City Council Committee Will Consider Government Reform Measures
Baltimore Sun – Talia Richman | Published: 1/13/2020
Less than two months after former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion charges, the city council is pushing forward on a slate of government reform measures that include giving itself the power to oust a mayor for misconduct. Council members introduced a number of charter amendments in the wake of the wide-ranging “Healthy Holly” scandal, in which Pugh sold hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of self-published children’s books to companies that did business with the city. The amendments also would create a city administrator position and reduce the number of votes needed to overturn a mayor’s veto.
Massachusetts – In Novel Move, DiMasi Sues Secretary of State After Lobbyist Bid Denied
Boston Globe – Matt Stout | Published: 1/10/2020
Former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi sued Secretary of State William Galvin as part of DiMasi’s bid to register as a state lobbyist, a novel legal move that could have wide ramifications for how Massachusetts lobbying and ethics laws are interpreted. DiMasi has said intended to challenge Galvin’s decision to reject his lobbying application after a state hearing officer denied DiMasi’s appeal. It is nevertheless unprecedented. First elected in 1994, Galvin has never been sued for denying a lobbyist application, and depending on how a judge rules, it could reshape how he enforces state law.
Michigan – Michigan Senator to Female Reporter: High school boys could ‘have a lot of fun’ with you
Detroit Free Press – Paul Egan and Kathleen Gray | Published: 1/15/2020
A state senator is facing widespread criticism and an investigation in the Michigan Legislature after telling a female reporter she should stick around at the Capitol because a group of high school students from an all-boys school, touring the building, could “have a lot of fun” with her. Sen. Peter Lucido made the comments outside the Senate chamber to Allison Donahue, a reporter from the Michigan Advance, while surrounded by a group of male high school students from De La Salle Collegiate. The Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate announced they have asked the Senate Business Office to investigate whether the incident violated Senate rules related to sexual harassment.
New Jersey – No Hard Alcohol Will Be Allowed on ‘Chamber Train’ Following NJ.com Report on Sexual Harassment
Newark Star Ledger – Susan Livio and Kelly Heyboer (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 1/9/2020
The New Jersey Chamber of Commerce has banned “hard alcohol” aboard its annual “Walk to Washington” lobbying event in response to a recent report that quoted women saying they do not feel safe attending the important affair for politicians and lobbyists. The Chamber also said it will hire more security officers and establish a direct phone line that would “immediately and discreetly” report an incident of harassment directly to security personnel and the organizers. A story published in The Newark Star Ledger included interviews with women who said they were groped, assaulted, or sexually propositioned over the years on the job in state politics. The women also identified the problems with the Chamber of Commerce’s annual train trip, which includes crowded cars of people drinking and networking from Newark to Washington D.C.
New Jersey – Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Bridgegate Scandal
Northwest Indiana Times – Matt Zapotosky (Washington Post) | Published: 1/14/2020
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on whether to overturn the convictions against two of former Gov. Chris Christie’s ex-political allies in the “Bridgegate” case, and the decision could have implications for how federal prosecutors pursue allegations of public corruption. The two former allies, Bridget Kelly and William Baroni Jr., argue the Justice Department reached too far in charging them with fraud for their roles in an alleged plot to back up traffic on the George Washington Bridge as retaliation against a local mayor who declined to endorse Christie’s reelection bid. They say while the conduct alleged might have been uncouth, it was not illegal, and declaring it so would criminalize routine political dealings. The Justice Department counters that Kelly and Baroni are misstating what occurred, and the evidence was sufficient to support their convictions.
New York – SAM Party Sues State Over Changes to Third Party Ballot Access
Albany Times Union – Amanda Fries | Published: 1/14/2020
A new state law in New York requiring political parties to offer a presidential candidate and garner nearly three times as many votes than previously needed to maintain their statewide ballot line is facing a legal challenge by the newest political party. The Serve America Movement (SAM) Party, which gained state ballot access in the 2018 gubernatorial race, is suing Gov. Andrew Cuomo, state legislators, and the state Board of Elections alleging the requirements are unconstitutional. The SAM Party complaint alleges that forcing the minor party to nominate a presidential candidate or otherwise lose party status is a “severe burden” and violates the First and Fourteenth amendments allowing citizens to create and develop new political parties.
Oregon – Pay to Play? Out-Of-State Law Firms Reap Rewards of Oregon Campaign Contributions
Oregon Public Broadcasting – Dirk VanderHart | Published: 1/15/2020
Almost half of the money that Oregon Treasurer Tobias Read reported raising in 2019 came from big law firms headquartered in places like New York City and Washington, D.C. Nearly all are being made by lawyers who seek work from the state. A 2008 law gave firms a chance to make millions of dollars if they are picked to work one of the potentially lucrative lawsuits that Oregon files against powerful corporations. The result is a torrent of outside money to state candidates, much of it solicited by Oregon treasurers and attorneys general, the same elected officials whose offices decide which firms get the work. “Whether this corrupts their decision or not, they ought to be sensitive to the fact that it stinks,” said James Cox, a professor at Duke University School of Law.
Rhode Island – R.I. Ethics Commission, Known for Transparency, Talks About Keeping Complaints Secret Until Investigations Done
Boston Globe – Edward Fitzpatrick | Published: 1/10/2020
Rhode Island has one of the most transparent ethics agencies in the nation, but a member of the state Ethics Commission floated an idea that would limit transparency by keeping ethics complaints under wraps until investigations are complete. Ethics complaints can be used as a “political tool,” said Dr. Robert Salk, who has been on the commission since 2012. “The problem is that the way we do it is hurting people that did nothing wrong.” When it began in 1986, the ethics panel used a “secret process,” the commission’s executive director, Jason Gramitt, said, but after court cases, hearings, and workshops, the commission opened up the complaint process.
South Dakota – Federal Judge Blocks South Dakota Petition Law
Courthouse News Service – Maria Dinzeo | Published: 1/9/2020
A federal judge struck down as unconstitutional a South Dakota law imposing burdensome regulations that would have made it much harder for the average citizen to get an initiative on the ballot. Gov. Kristi Noem signed House Bill 1094 into law in 2019, requiring petition circulators to wear name tags and register with the secretary of state. The law further mandates that circulators provide the state with their personal information, such as their home address and phone number to be included in a public directory, potentially exposing people to harassment. Aside from the unduly onerous disclosure requirements, political activist Cory Heidelberger said the law discriminates based on viewpoint, since it only applies to petition proponents.
Tennessee – Rep. Matthew Hill Facing Questions Over Last-Minute Legislation, Contributions
The Tennessean – Joel Ebert | Published: 1/16/2020
Tennessee Rep. Matthew Hill, who faced scrutiny for comments he made last year related to a little-known $4 million grant, sponsored another bill during the 2019 legislative session that will benefit several business owners who later gave him $45,000. The law would let the local government use a portion of sales tax revenue to provide incentives in the development of a taxpayer funded development district. The legislation was approved on the final day of the 2019 session. Less than a month later, the owners and employees of Face Amusement, a Johnson City-based company with land in the proposed development district, donated to a PAC used by Hill for his race for speaker.
Washington – Seattle City Council Bans ‘Foreign-Influenced’ Companies from Most Political Spending
Seattle Times – Daniel Beekman | Published: 1/13/2020
The Seattle City Council banned most political spending by “foreign-influenced corporations” to prevent international influence in city elections. The legislation would prevent corporations with a single non-U.S. investor holding at least one percent ownership, or two or more holding at least five percent ownership from contributing to directly to Seattle candidates or through PACs. Companies that have a non-U.S. investor making decisions on its American political activities will also be prevented from political spending. The council also passed a bill that requires commercial advertisers maintain public records on political ads related to legislative decisions, in addition to ads related to elections.
Wisconsin – Appeals Court Blocks Purge of Wisconsin Voter Rolls for the Time Being
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – Patrick Marley | Published: 1/14/2020
An appeals court ordered the state to keep more than 200,000 people on its voter rolls, a day after an Ozaukee County judge found Wisconsin election officials in contempt of court for not following his December decision to suspend voter registrations. In a separate order, one of the judges on the appeals court blocked the contempt finding, relieving the commission and three of its members of $800 in fines. The rulings are not final and were put in place temporarily while the appeals court considers whether anyone should be taken off the rolls. But for now, the decision is a victory for Democrats who hoped to prevent thousands of people from losing their voter registrations.
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